South Carolinians who are due compensation as the result of legal settlement or insurance claims but haven’t seen their checks are often unaware of Unclaimed South Carolina Property Program – an initiative designed to locate and claim their funds owed them.
Curtis Loftis of South Carolina’s Office of State Treasurer oversees this program which currently holds more than $850 million of unclaimed property belonging to South Carolinians that has yet to be claimed – such as missing funds or abandoned assets held for safekeeping – that has not yet been claimed. According to its last fiscal year (2021-2022), this program returned 41.2 million back to their rightful owners; however, sc lost money due to administrative costs and interest payments.
“Better odds than playing the lottery – and free!” boasted Loftis. Returning unclaimed property to its rightful owners was one of his favorite aspects of his job.
He refers to this practice as playing Santa Claus.
Loftis’ office is responsible for tracking an enormous volume of information related to Unclaimed South Carolina properties, or unclaimed assets owned by people currently or previously living in South Carolina that they still may have a right to claim. Such unclaimed funds could include utility deposits or bank account balances left forgotten, uncashed checks, shares dividends settlement payments estate payouts proceeds from insurance claims etc – among many other forms.
Interestingly, various people including George and Barbara Bush, Henry McMaster, Jimmy Carter and Nikki Haley all have unclaimed property listed in the database.
Loftis stated that many are often shocked to learn the state is holding unclaimed property they own. He advised searching the database not only for themselves, but also friends, family members, neighbors, churches or organizations they may belong to.
Loftis indicated that “the money is out there – all it needs is for people to claim it”.
Something is amiss or these funds would not be missing; simple errors like misspelled names and addresses are common, while states receive unclaimed property to add to their database year-round; November and December tend to bring the highest volume.
Loftis suggests reviewing your database at least twice annually…
FITSNews’ analysis of this database revealed that an overwhelming majority of unclaimed funds in California’s database are related to litigation – meaning the system that enabled disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh to steal millions from his clients for over a decade is also keeping millions from their rightful owners. While the funds may have been dispersed out for settlement purposes, they don’t appear in their intended beneficiaries’ bank accounts.
Many factors contribute to this situation. First, unclaimed properties often consist of utility deposits owed to someone. People move away or fail to leave forwarding addresses or forget they owed money owing. With court cases such as personal injury lawsuits, negotiated settlements or probate court proceedings however, this remains murky leaving those without legal training at a serious disadvantage.
Read our coverage of Murdaugh to understand that family members of one of his victims had no idea their case had been settled, loans were made from trust funds belonging to other victims, while still other victims only received part of what was due them. Furthermore, bookkeepers at Murdaugh’s former firm weren’t aware of his activities for over 10 years, leaving clients owing millions in money that was recovered but then stolen back into debtor’s prisons.
Myths and Mysteries… mes Court cases often take years to resolve or adjudicate – leaving attorneys and clients alike disoriented in terms of knowing each other and how best to proceed with the matter.
In cases where settlements involve multiple parties, more than one check may need to be issued. Attorney fees and costs such as medical bills will likely be deducted before making the check payable directly to clients; such circumstances are inevitable and should not be avoided.
This problem is systemic: hundreds of law firms with thousands of clients are listed in our database, some with just a single entry while others contain many entries. Could this be indicative of loose bookkeeping practices or simply failure in communication between attorneys and clients during the process – that has never resumed even though money was at stake -?
These issues are compounded by the lack of a statewide uniform court reporting system – one which would enable individuals to search in one place and find all legal documents related to their case. Unfortunately, each county currently maintains separate indexes for civil and criminal cases while processes for property and probate records vary considerably from one to another requiring comprehensive searches to be done one county at a time, often necessitating multiple searches per county for proper results.
Integrating these databases and making their records searchable should be at the core of justice reform in South Carolina.
Regarding searchable databases, South Carolina’s unclaimed property records can be found online with the state treasurer’s office and are filled out using information supplied from various outside sources – these external entities are accountable for the accuracy and completeness of entries listed therein.
Assuming a simple name search would suffice, individuals searching the database might think a simple name search would suffice in discovering missing funds that belong to them; however, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Though searchable by name, we found numerous cases in which missing funds were listed under an attorney or law firm who represented them instead – making them inaccessible by this method alone.
“Businesses report funds to our office using an industry standard format that’s accepted across states,” according to Karen Ingram, communications director for the Treasurer’s office. This file is then uploaded and processed through our system in an organized fashion.
Simply stated, how a form is filled out determines its appearance in a database. An automated system places information provided exactly as provided. So for example if a law firm listed their attorney and rightful owner in two columns – their law firm name instead of his would appear when searching. Furthermore if multiple owners submit information at once which cannot be located through searching.